Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

The Tom Clancy series gets a Kenneth Branagh reboot

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit



Rating

Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Colm Feore, Nonso Anozie, Aleksandar Aleksiev, David Paymer, Lee Asquith-Coe, Gemma Chan, Karen Shenaz David. Written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp, based on characters created by Tom Clancy.

A surprisingly solid little B-movie spy thriller that borrows the name and (presumably) little else from Tom Clancy’s original creation, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is immensely aided by the presence of Kenneth Branagh both in front of and behind the camera. The director has come a long way from Shakespeare, but he knows exactly what kind of movie this is, and delivers an engaging little diversion.


Chris Pine stars as Ryan, a college student who signs up for the Marines after 9/11. He’s involved in a fatal helicopter crash that leaves him with a serious leg injury, effectively ending his military career. But on his way to recovery, he’s recruited by CIA man Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) to come work for the government. 

Ryan goes undercover on Wall Street – which could, by the way, have made a more relevant thriller – where he notices a potential conspiracy brewing in Russia: a large number of funds owned by Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) have simply fallen off the grid, leaving the US economy potentially vulnerable. While the conspiracy sounded plausible as I was watching the movie, don’t ask me to make sense of the details now. 

While the exposition-heavy first half hour of Shadow Recruit failed to really engage me, the film dramatically shifts gears once Ryan gets to Russia, starting with a slam-bang action sequence featuring a would-be assassin. The film almost immediately comes to life, and sustains that energy right up until the closing credits; seeing a no-nonsense spy movie done this well causes me to wonder why we don’t have more of these modern espionage thrillers (especially given the success of the Bourne films). 

Keira Knightley plays Jack’s fiancée, who high-tails it to Moscow to find out if Jack really loves her and gets caught up in the spy games along the way. Pine and Knightley are fine here, but the film really belongs to Costner and Branagh; Costner is a lot of fun in the mentor role, while Branagh chews up the scenery as the menacing Cherevin, whose danger always lurks beneath the surface.

As director, Branagh composes the action and espionage sequences especially well: once Shadow Recruit gets going, it never lets up. The centerpiece of the film is a lengthy heist sequence involving a dinner between Ryan, his fiancée, and Cherevin; the material is nothing new, but it’s so well executed that the director almost seems to be channeling Hitchcock – we’re much more invested in the film’s events than we would be if handled differently. 

An action-oriented climax suffers in comparison; taking place after the plot elements have seemingly been wrapped up, it almost feels perfunctory. Still, the pacing is fast and fluid and wraps you up in the action nonetheless. Movies like this tend to get overlooked – Shadow Recruit was bumped from a December release date and dumped into cinemas in January, where it has underperformed at the box office – but it’s refreshing to see such a simple and efficient thriller that’s better executed than most summer blockbusters.  

While this reboot of Jack Ryan franchise doesn’t match 1990s outings – The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger (the latter, for me, is the gold standard for this sort of thing) – I enjoyed it a little more than 2002’s The Sum of All Fears. But this is quite a different beast than those features: clean, lean, and straight to the point, this Jack Ryan delivers the spy movie goods with no pretension of being anything that it isn’t. In that regard, it reminded me of another Jack: 2012’s similarly no-nonsense thriller, the underrated Jack Reacher


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